The Scottish Duke
I have a feeling that people who know history better than I do will take umbrage with this book. It’s one of those that just doesn’t feel completely historically accurate and I kept wondering how much of my “fantasy” brain I should engage. I was charmed by it, especially by the heroine and by the hero’s mother, but I’m curious to see how my fellow readers with a more knowledgeable lens will receive The Scottish Duke.
Lorna Gordon is an orphan who stumbled into service at Blackhall Castle in her early teens after her father passed away. She’s self-possessed and stubborn and is bound and determined to get her botanist father’s treatise on Scottish plants and their healing properties published and respected. She’s also become obsessed with the lord of Blackhall Castle, Alex Russell.
When the story opens, she’s about to sneak into a costume ball dressed as Marie Antoinette, wearing a costume she found in the attic while cleaning. Her fellow maid and best friend Nan is helping her, but expressing appropriate skepticism that this could lead to the termination of Lorna’s employment. Nonetheless, Lorna forges ahead and soon finds herself on a balcony with Alex, making out in the rain.
How did she get there? Well, at the beginning of the book, Alex is in a mood. His groundbreaking work in fingerprint analysis has just been, in his mind, stolen by another Scotsman and Alex’s work was not given the praise he feels it deserves at a recent scientific society meeting. He’s annoyed to even be dealing with this farce of a costume ball, but he’s doing it for his mother. Counting the minutes until he can be free, he’s brought short by the sight of Marie Antoinette at the back of a room. With the single-mindedness of a starving dog, he finds her and they embark upon quite the assignation.
What starts on the balcony finishes on the settee in his study, where he discovers her virginity, plows ahead (pardon the double entendre, folks) anyway and then gets surly with her for being a virgin. She snaps back at him and takes her leave, knowing he has no idea she’s a maid in his own home.
Fast forward six months, and Lorna has resigned her post at the castle due to being pregnant with the Duke’s child. She’s living in a nearby village and posing as a widow, but is having a really hard time making ends meet. Through some events set in motion by a letter left for Alex’s mother, Lorna ends up back on the estate, but in a cottage on the property. Concerned over her grandchild’s legitimacy, the Duchess tells a few white lies which ensures that Lorna and Alex are legally wed approximately three minutes before their child is born.
While I know that this is possible and has been done in other books, the speed with which it happens just adds to the overall feeling of craziness. And things only get more madcap from there, with Alex’s dead wife’s jealous sister still living in the castle, Alex’s deep fear of emotional intimacy, and a meddling valet all adding to the page-turning aspect of the plot. I couldn’t put this book down, simply because I had to know what happened next!
As I said at the beginning, I enjoyed many of the characters in this book. The villains are a bit too mustache-twirly and Lorna a touch too perfect, but overall the thing worked. I enjoyed my time in this world and I imagine I’ll keep an eye out for the next in the series. This is my first book by Ms. Ranney, and I enjoyed this one enough to try her writing again.
I know there are readers of historical romance who want strict accuracy and so I hesitate to recommend this to them due to my own ignorance. However, if you’re a reader who likes contemporary-feeling romances set in house parties with corsets, I think you’ll find a lot to love here.